6 Jan: Ruts and getting out

I needed a TB test for volunteering, so I picked a random CVS Minute Clinic.  I got there 15 minutes before the system stopped taking patients, but since the last patient was quick and I only needed a TB test, he slipped me in.

Turns out the CVS I picked is in the same shopping center as Native Foods, so that was dinner solved.  I got the Chicken Run Ranch (I think the secret to making soy delicious is texture, like a crispy breading on the “chicken,” but the tangy ranch helps too) with a free side of steamed kale.

Also turns out there was a Sprouts, and I needed to get vegetables for the bunny.  Now I could just hit up the Sprouts I usually go to since both drives are the same, and my local store might even be faster since I (finally) figured out where everything is.  But I decided to see what this location had to offer.  And what I found was the spicy yellow lentil hummus I’ve been searching for for months at my local place.

tl;dr it’s good to break habits and see what you’ve been missing.


I made my usual trip back to Texas over the winter holiday.  The first thing I saw after landing in George Bush International Airport was a Fox News Store, and I just about got back on the plane and asked to be taken home.

As the season keeps reminding us, what’s important is the people important to us, so instead of talking about what we did (which was attend a lot of holiday dinners), here’s an update on my family.

After some initial resistance, my mom has settled into retirement.  She’s spends her time making sure family is taken care of and then enjoying herself.  For my dad (B) it’s just one crisis after another.  Every time I’ve seen him for the past decade, he’s never failed to impress upon everyone how little sleep he’s getting or what he’s had to do because something has gone wrong or someone is trying to scam him.  There is always a crisis, or otherwise he and his outdated knowledge and skills would no longer be relevant.  What would be nice if people actually wanted his help, instead of having to tell each other, “he means well” or “just humor him.”

When he and my brother (S) talk, B will lecture for several minutes until S interjects with a comment or anecdote.  You know, like how some people have a conversation.  But B isn’t really interested in a conversation or dialogue.  Instead, he’ll nod and say, “All right, let me talk.”  Other people’s input — whether additional information he might be aware of, different perspectives, or opinions / suggestions about the problem at hand — only interferes with the goal, which is to proclaim what he has decided and why it’s right.  People may read that and think it’s exaggeration, but unfortunately it’s not.

S sometimes goes into mentor mode.  I think it may be because his daughters aren’t interested in the same things he is, so he has limited opportunities to talk about things like Raleigh scattering or a mathematical proof he once did.  That must feel isolating, when there is no one in your family you can speak to naturally.  He works some pretty crappy hours too, but it means his family doesn’t have money worries.

His wife (I) also works hard.  She spends most of the day taking care of two girls and the house.  When the girls are finally asleep, only then does she have time to practice (she’s a pianist).  I heard her stay up til 2 or 3 am practicing, only to wake up early to take care of the girls.  Insert comment about women making concessions with their career in order to raise a family or in deference to their husband’s job.

But when we drove to the airport to send me off, I surprised the girls by saying they were going on an impromptu trip to Disneyland.  I planned the whole trip since S works crazy hours, even during the holiday.  She’s all right in my book.  S says he’s usually so tired after work that, if it were up to him, they wouldn’t do much, just eat dinner then watch TV, so it’s good that I is spontaneous and keeps the family active.

My eldest niece (E, 11 years) spent most of the break reading.  I’m assuming it’s because she likes reading and not just for the reading points she logged (or whatever they’re called these days).  This year, she says she wants to be a professional violinist, but it’s clear she isn’t currently practicing hard enough to make that happen (it doesn’t take conservatory-trained I to see that).  I did get to talk some math with E, but it appears the cursory understanding that passes for math education in most schools is good enough for her right now.  S notes that she is very much about following directions (E follows recipes or doesn’t cook at all.  Lego means instructions you follow to get the designed product; it’s not a kit for imagination.), which unfortunately means she doesn’t really think for herself or follow her curiosity.  But she’s still young, so maybe she will grow out of it.  Or maybe the family’s affluence shelters her.

If my elder niece is about following rules, the younger one (M, 7 years) is about pushing the limits.  She’s the baby, and plays to “the cute one” role by talking in baby voice and acting for the audience.  M gets away with a lot, pretty much as soon as people’s backs are turned, and has started treating most directions as mere suggestions (use your indoor voice, shut the door when using the bathroom, don’t play with mom’s phone, etc.) and generally ignores them until an adult raises their voice.  The one person she does listen to is her older sister because she looks up to E and wants to be like her.

The story is that M’s piano teacher is quite famous and sought after, the sort whose students train for competition.  Meanwhile, when the teacher tries to show M how to play, M pushes her away and goes on playing how she wants.  The teacher says she generally drops students like M, but she keeps teaching her because it’s clear that M genuinely has fun playing the piano.  And I just realized this sounds like Nodame Cantabile.  Perhaps M’s willful impetuosity will be her strength one day.

Being around my nieces meant being subjected to a lot of bad children’s programming.  There was an old Strawberry Shortcake where sounded like the director told the voice actors to talk down to particular dumb four year olds.  And then there was the incredibly trite Disney special called Santa Paws that shouted, “We couldn’t think of anything original, so here are some talking animals and a slice of Annie.”  Makes me appreciate shows that don’t treat kids as mindless sheep who need to be distracted.

They say it’s not really a trip unless it changes you.  (And if they don’t say it, then I say, so there.)  The holidays have generally been a time for introspection for me, a time to reflect on not the year ahead or the year behind, but on my life and how it’s going.  And I would really like someone to share my life with, someone to come home to and make plans with.

And it’s not because several people asked me if I had a girlfriend (M asks “when,” not “if,” I’m getting married).  Or that my cousins all have spouses and babies.  Or that most of my coworkers are either married or in stable relationships.  But, as much as I like being in charge of my own life, it feels like there’s something missing, something that can’t be filled with games or even a bunny (though he is adorable).  So maybe it’s time to stop using, “I’m busy.  I just bought property,” as an excuse and get out there.

I voted

Another election has come and gone, but I wasn’t really tuned into it.  A large part of it was the reason mentioned here, namely that voters can’t rely on candidates or their supporters to give reliably factual information either about the candidate or their opposition.  Perhaps it’s the downside to living in the information age that there’s so much information that disinformation is prevalent, and trying to call anyone on it just gets lost in the noise anyway.

When I’m listening to NPR during my commute, I find I have to check myself to giving into confirmation bias when I readily accept statements that confirms my world view and doubt statements that do not.  (On the other hand, when Putin says he supports peace in Ukraine and is not sending in tanks, I find it really hard to believe him or his foreign ministers.  I bet Putin has a good laugh every time he lies about what’s going on under the table because, even if the west denounces his actions and Ukraine throws accusations every other day, what does he care when Russians believe his propaganda.)

Anyway, the only election that really interested me was California State Superintendent for Public Schools.  (Okay, that’s not the only election I cared about.  But even though Obama’s approval numbers are in the 40’s, the GOP congress’ numbers are in the 20’s.  Yet they increase their number of seats?  That’s a serious WTH moment.)

Okay, okay: Torlakson vs. Tuck.  The contest was billed as a mirror of the battle over education in country, with Torlakson representing the establishment (heavy backing from teachers unions and incumbent democrats) and Tuck representing reform.  Except with his charter school and business school background, Tuck represents a very particular type of reform centered around test scores.  I want reform, but not one where students are reduced to test scores and teachers are paid and fired based on test scores, especially since I believe the tests are fundamentally flawed.

I recently bought a kalimba, specifically this one.  I wanted a chromatic kalimba because not having accidentals really restricts what songs you play.  My kalimba has an alto tuning, meaning it has exactly two octaves from G3 to G5, which is enough 99% of time, but…

Currently, I’m working on two songs:

Transcribing the songs for alto kalimba has been a fun little music theory project.  Turnabout Sisters can be played C4 (a fifth below G4) and G5, which fits in my alto’s range.  But at the end it modulates up, and the new high note is now out of range.  (Maybe I should have gotten the chromatic treble kalimba instead, which has two notes above the highest tonic.)  Anyway, I solved this by shifting down to the key of D since I didn’t use the low part of the range.  And since that’s the dominant (right?), there’s only the occasional note from the chromatic notes on the back of the instrument.

Time Travel drives me crazy though.  The piano version above, which I adore and is my ringtone, has a huge range.  The right hand covers 3 octaves plus a fifth below and a couple semi-tones above.  And then sometimes the left hand has the melody.  In order to fit these excursions above and below the tonic, I again transcribed the song in D, but now I only have 1 octave.  I’m not sure if it would be any better with the extra range offered by a treble kalimba; I haven’t tried transcribing it yet.

Anyway I shift up and down whole octaves, sometimes in weird places, to make some passages fit.  Then the song modulates to E… Kalimbas are not scale agnostic.  Playing notes in the tonic scale just uses the thumbs.  Playing in the dominant or subdominant scale is still pretty easy because there’s just one tine on the back so you can keep a finger there.  Deviating further means hunting for tines that you can’t see on the back of the instrument.

Anyway, the kalimba is fun, but it has limitations.

The game I’ve played the most recently is Buzz Aldrin’s Space Program Manager.  It’s is very much a successor to Buzz Aldrin’s Race Into Space, which has the far catchier name.  However, X Manager and Y Simulator seem to be all the rage these days, and BASPM is very much a manager game, what with carefully cultivating three different staffs (engineers, astronauts, and flight controllers) while picking projects to earn prestige but not going overboard (read: overbudget).

I have to say that the first time I sent humans to the moon (it was a Gemini direct ascent), I got goosebumps.

The game’s interface sucks though.  I really hope they rethink it before the next module, which is supposed to cover space missions between the moon landing and current day, things like the space shuttle and space stations.


Last week, someone posted on an SD boardgaming meetup that he wanted to get a group to play a Gamma World campaign.  Even though my pen-and-paper roleplaying has been limited, it sounded fun, and I went.  (The fact that I had been talking to someone on okc about Pathfinder had nothing to do with it.)  We spent most of the night making characters.  The GM was inexperienced and railroaded the group while mumbling a lot, and the group was big and unwieldy, but I did have coming up with my character, even if it was largely determined by dice: he’s a human that has embraced mutations who can zap people with electricity even though his ultravision can see electricity and so he can blind himself.

Overcome with a desire to create more stories, I looked up games like Pathfinder ACG.  Though their character customization and campaign are tops, ultimately I held off buying it because of some reservations about how repetitive the adventures are.

Instead, I started digging around actual RPG adventures.  The ones that really interested me the most were Eureka: 501 Adventures and Villainy Amok, both of which are really books of tropes.  (501 Adventures has a companion, Masks: 1001 Memorable NPCs.)  I also bought Operation Rimfire because I heard it was a good mecha based campaign (it’s basically a 20+ episode anime in adventure form).

The system that interested me the most was the derivatives of the Gumshoe system, like Ashen Stars.  The system is designed to avoid the problem with mysteries in RPGs where the players flub a die roll and miss out on a clue.  Gumshoe games provide the players with all the necessary clues, and the game is about the investigation and putting together the mystery.  Sadly, I don’t like any of the genres, otherwise I might try to mine their adventures for ideas.

In other news, Primetime Adventures had their latest printing successfully Kickstarted.  Fate, a system that was developed from Fudge, was also Kickstarted.  I like these stripped down games, where the players rather than the game mechanics bring the characters and story to life.

20-23 Sept: Bunnyfest

There wasn’t a whole lot to write about during the week.  I kinda wish that Scotland had voted for independence because that would have really pissed off China.  Instead, China is telling Hong Kong that they can’t choose their own candidates for elections, which undermines the whole idea of elections, doesn’t it?  Oh, Scotland mods are very popular in Civ 5 right now.

I tried the Lemongrass Tofu at Loving Hut.  I don’t know what spices they use, but it’s not just lemongrass.  I think there’s some garlic and not a little heat.  Anyway, it’s really good.

I joined Nextdoor, but it isn’t that interesting.  Most of the posts are for people selling stuff or looking for services or recommendations.  Maybe I should talk about Loving Hut.

I’ve been in this mood all week where I want to play an RPG, but none of the couple dozen RPGs I’ve collected through Humble Bundles.  Instead, Rebuild came out with another beta build, and I played that more than was healthy, mainly mucking about with finding a good mix of classes and figuring out how to best use builders (whether to replace useless buildings or keep expanding; balancing keeping a defensible base or fencing in rival factions).

I also started an American Civil War scenario in Civ 5.  The twist they add is that new infantry units are green and fight with 20% penalty.  After their first combat, they gain a random modifier, some good, some bad.  Good divisions get upgraded to corps while bad divisions get disbanded to free up manpower.  (The other twist is that resources limit how many units each side can field.  Manpower limits infantry units.  Infantry corps use 3 times the manpower as divisions for not quite 3 times the combat strength, but it’s the only way to get density.)  I sent a large expedition to take the Shenandoah Valley and had Leesburg threatened by the counter-offensive, but reinforcements saved the city.  The only problem it I might not have left enough time to seize Richmond (the scenario is a short 50 turns).

I volunteered at SDHRS on Saturday and at Bunnyfest on Sunday.  So many cute rabbits.

SDHRS got Meze Greek fusion to bring their stand, and I got a fiery feta with pita chips.  The best way to describe it is Greek nacho cheese: it’s spicy and flavorful and easy to dip, just with feta instead of… whatever nachos use.

We also sat next to the kettle corn stand, and that gave me a hankering.  So I made kettle corn for the office Monday.

17 Sept: Resistance is futile

So the bad news is that Spymaster, a game I’ve been anticipating for over a year (manage your own resistance cell in occupied France!), sucks.  As in soft launch sucks.  It’s F2P, but not Supercell’s F2P, where it’s possible to have fun without paying, but F2P that’s crippled unless you make regular payments.  Apparently the “play” is missing from the free-to-play.

The good news is now seems like a good time for someone to make a game about the French resistance.

I had the idea that, for my quidditch game, on your turn you play cards as actions, and on your opponent’s turn you play cards for currency to buy better cards.  There might be some interesting trade-off of deciding which role to save each card for.  Then I realized the distinction between playing on your turn and opponent’s turn was moot since effectively the sequence of play would be:

  1. Buy cards.  Possibly refill hand.
  2. Play cards.
  3. Usual end of turn clean up.

all on your turn.  Oh well.

2 – 14 Sept: Mostly about food

Last week, I did make this casserole.  Yes, a casserole using a rue and cheese in the binder instead a can of condensed soup.  The casserole was pretty good, but then it would be considering all the cheese in it.  It was easy to overcook the broccoli.

After I made that lovely schedule with all the regular housecleaning chores, I promptly ignored it last weekend.  no baking soda to make a drain volcano, and both Sprouts and Trader Joe’s sell them in sizes fine for cooking, but not for cleaning.  I’ll buy in bulk in my next Amazon order.

Well, I did do this weekend’s task: clean Bunbury’s room.  A lot of shedding and “territory marking” has accumulated, and it was good to clean it out.  I also spent this morning volunteering at SDHRS, cleaning hay and poop out of rabbit pens.  (The trick is to first sweep up the easy to reach poop so you can safely walk around without accidentally treading on it.)  It was a poopy Sunday.

Meanwhile, my ramekins arrived!  There were extra yolks, so let’s make some creme brulee!  With soy milk instead of cream.  They were good, and the fat is not missed.  Neither Sprouts nor Trader Joe’s has gelatin so, to make panna cotta, guess what else is going is in the next Amazon order?

This weekend I hit up Kiki’s Place (good fish tacos, with more fish than batter, and they have this one awesome red creamy hot sauce) and Tandoori Hut for the lunch buffet (goat curry and tandoori chicken were great, chicken tikka and mango mousse was good, it’s weird that they don’t have chai).  Meanwhile, Loving Hut now considers me a regular; they accidentally forgot to charge for a Peaceful Pink this last time, and the guy told me to just add it onto my next bill.  (Aside: Pretty sure I could make a Peaceful Pin.  In fact, any non-dairy smoothie is basically soy milk, juice, and fruit.  Remove the fruit, and you have a drink that doesn’t need a blender.)

Okay, stuff unrelated to food.  I finally made a budget, and it turns out that even without my end-of-the-year bonus and higher housing costs, I’m still in the black.  Yay.  I didn’t realized I spent that much on games though.  Now to get my investments in order…

But this week there was another Humble Android Bundle, and I have to support Android game developers (by buying their games at heavy discount… whoops).  My favorite of the lot is Color Zen (nice aesthetics, puzzles that require some thinking) even though the it is similar to KAMI.  Other notables are The Room II (nice exploratory puzzles, as usual, though I’m having trouble getting it to save my progress), Tiny Bang Story (this is my first hidden object game, at least it’s hand drawn), and Kingdom Rush Frontiers (one of the few tower defense series I will give the time of day).

This got me playing some other Android games that I’ve let languish on my phone.  I got Bullseye Boxing because of a Pocket Tactics article.  It reminds me of Devil’s Attorney, and I ended up playing that instead.  I finally beat Devil’s Attorney on hard by maxing out my Materialism stat asap and writing a Python script to use dynamic programming to find strategies that optimized the expected number of actions to finish off a target.

Speaking of writing programs to do my thinking for me, I bought Calculords, which is by far the nerdiest game I have installed right now.  However, while finding expressions in order to play cards isn’t hard, finding a partition that uses all the numbers is non-trivial, and I wrote a program to help me with that.  Except it runs incredibly slow with 7 or more cards, so I may have to rewrite it.

I also finally played Ascension.  Like Star Realms, it also has semi-permanent cards that stay in play until removed, blurring the line between deck-builders and tableau games.  This gives me ideas for my Narbonic card game, which I at first envisioned as a tableau game, but a deck-builder is an interesting mechanic for how a player develops their engine.  Combine them for the best of both worlds.  Lab equipment or personnel can be semi-permanents.  They may get damaged/injured during a fight and get sent to the discard deck until they’re repaired.

Speaking of deck-builders, I’ve been thinking about my Quidditch game.  The thing about sports games, compared to other games, is that there’s little sense of progression: generally, both sides play about as well at the end of the game as they do at the beginning.  If anything, many games model attrition as the game goes on (literally, in Blood Bowl; many racing games track wear as the race continues).  So what if, in Quidditch, each player could modify their deck to react to what their opponent was doing.  Oh, right, that’s a deck builder game.  Though I don’t know if I want a straight up deck builder where players, say, play 2 chasers for enough agility points to buy a better chaser card as accumulating slightly more powerful cards doesn’t have a strong visceral feel to it.  I still want players to move the quaffle around the pitch and counter each other’s moves.

Finally, I finished Sorcery, Part 1.  First I had to write down the the spellbook to make it easier to look up spells (honestly, do they expect you to flip page by page through the book to find spells?).   I’m so used to adventure games beating me up and teaching me lessons before I could advance that I was surprised how easy it was to finish.  I did rewind twice: once when I lost all my equipment in a village, and another time to the black lotus.  But the rewind feature allowed me to pick up my game again in seconds.  Nice feature.

I also played the demo for Pixel Defenders.  It’s like Triple Town, where you place pieces into a map and combine 3 things to make an upgraded thing.  Except instead of annoying bears getting in the way of matches, we husband actions used to slow down and defeat monsters.  It is tempting to buy the full game…

An idea I’ve been kicking around for a possible mobile game is an old idea I’ve had since middle school based off the game Hunt the Wumpus.  Except instead of wandering more-or-less blindly, you’re mapping out a 3-dimensional cavern and can deploy sensors (active and passive) and traps.  Meanwhile, an opposing team is doing the same.  But to do that, I’ll have to figure out how to procedurally generate cavern artwork.

I haven’t been keeping up with DDP Yoga.  For a few days after that first session, my back was really tense and aching.  I think all that “activating your muscles” just made them knot up.